Hacking CES: An electronics entrepreneur tells you how to make the most of your trip

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Travis Kalanick of Red Swoosh writes an insider’s guide to getting out of CES alive.

In 6 years of running Red Swoosh I had over 3 of those without a salary. Necessity taught me the very fine art of bootstrapping. Blood, Sweat and RAMEN is what I like to call it. I was always thinking about how to make things ultra-cheap, hyper-efficient, while making a good story out of it. . .

Some of the most bootstrapping-hacking-fun I had was with CES. The Consumer Electronics Show is the yearly post-New-Year’s mecca for the techset. If you’re in the game you’ve got to be there. The problem is that it is a f*#king chaotic inefficient time-sucking, money grubbing melee (if you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about) with huge CES-gouged costs, and massive time sinks at every turn. With hardly any money in my pocket, my goal was to do CES for as cheap as humanly possible (<$100/day all in), while also making myself TWICE as efficient as all the chumps who were doing CES the conventional way.

For the NOOBS, here’s a rundown of the classic CES headaches:

Taxis

* The average taxi wait line is 20-30 minutes –yes, that’s just the wait time for getting the taxi—Worst case can be an HOUR PLUS
* If you only take the taxi once a day, maybe this would be tolerable. . . but you’ll be taking up to 8 taxi rides a day ($100/day)—lots of travel between meetings, between convention center and strip, and especially the party circuit
* The aggravation of waiting for taxis during CES will take years off your lifespan, and cost you thousands of dollars in anger-management therapy.

Hotels

* Everything’s booked within a 20 mile radius, so all prices are at CES-gouge level
* The strip will cost you $300/night if you can get a room,
* Getting in and out of your hotel can take 10-15 minutes. Vegas hotels are designed so that you don’t leave. Long winding hotel floors requires l33t FPS skills and even a rockstar will need 10-15 minutes to get out of the hotel! Of course the average CES chump will then wait for a cab for 30 minutes after he finally re-discovers the front door of the hotel.

Traffic

* Getting from the Convention Center to anywhere else during rush hour is IMPOSSIBLE and can literally take hours.
* Any CES vets who’ve been stuck on Paradise Rd. or Swenson St. at 6pm will tell you like it is: If you don’t carefully avoid the traffic, you will pay a steep price.

Parties

* CES parties are where the real business gets done, but do you know what parties are happening where? . . are you on the lists?
* No inside intelligence means no parties, means no real networking for the CES dwebe who thinks going to booths during the day will get it done.

The CES headaches quickly become a migraine. . . so let the CES hacking begin . . :)

Hack # 1 – Stay at EconoLodge

* $40/night (huge $$ savings over strip)
* The door to your room is 20 feet from the street (massive time savings to get to/from room)
* Very close to convention center and opposite of traffic crunch(gargantuan time savings to avoid rush hour traffic)
* I recommend the Econolodge at 1150 Las Vegas Blvd.
* You’re no longer beholden to room service, or hotel restaurants. . . you’re close to fast food joints, pizza delivery is always an option AND stock your room with muffins, juice, beef jerky, junk food, Red Bull and other non-kitchen-type foods that you can eat quick to get you to (and through) the next meeting.

Hack #2 – Rent a car

* $20/day (huge savings over taxi costs)
* No taxi lines (massive time savings over taxi line)
* FREEDOM! Go where you want when you need to. . .huge advantage for getting more done while your competitors are restricting their movement due to taxi constipation
* I still don’t understand why more people don’t do this. . . and why this is a novel idea for bus. travel to vegas . . but it is
* Literally park 1 foot away from your Econolodge room.

Hack #3 – Convention Center Parking

* I can’t believe I’m giving this one away. . . this one’s a gem. . .there’s a parking lot right behind the convention center that goes for $5 (yes that is $15-20 cheaper than the far away Hilton parking lot that the wankers go to).
* 5 minute walk into the convention center beats the other parking lots in the area by a long shot

Hack #4 – Party lists and party crashing

* There are a few online party lists that track all the parties going on at CES. Do a google search for “2009 CES parties”. It may take a little time and diligent surfing before you get all the good stuff.
* Do everything you can before parties to get on their lists. This happens in the weeks before CES, but I also recommend working the floor and booths, talking to folks about what’s going on , and whether the people manning the booths can hook you up.
* For parties you are not on the list for, and cannot sneak in through the kitchen door or back door, wait near the front (but out of view of the bouncer). If you have a friend already inside, then have your friend borrow somebody else’s badge, and then put it on and go in the party and give it back to the original owner.
* Alternatively, you can wait for people to come out, and then ask them for their badge.
* You should be able to get into ANY party you want with these tactics.
* Parties often have FREE food and FREE drinks. . . you never have to pay for dinner
* Do not underestimate the power of the party circuit. It’s where crucial networking goes down, and it’s there that you become a player in the industry, not on the convention floor.

Hack #5 – Crashing panels, talk to panel speakers

* This is standard fare for the bootstrapping entrepreneur, but it must be said: SNEAK INTO THE PANEL SESSIONS
* First, it can help if you save your party badges and always wear them. It can fool security at the passage ways into panels.
* Second, there are often backdoors or entry ways into panel rooms, find them if above doesn’t work
* Third, getting into the end of a panel discussion is much easier than getting in at the beginning. . .remember, you are there to crash the panels to meet the panel speakers. . . you ARE NOT there for the panel sessions, they’re garbage, and almost never tell you anything useful.
* At the end of the panel, race to the front of the room to speak with and meet the panelists. Yes, you are going to be “that guy”, and yes, you are going to see him later in the evening at one of the parties and that’s where the real conversation happens.

Okay, those are the big ones. . . there’s a bunch of others but I’ll save that for my “Crash and Hack CES” book deal ;). Have a freakin blast guys and send your stories/questions/hacks in the comments below or travisk AT gmail D0T c0m.

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